Home Events Event: Tyrants, Terrorists, and Threats to the 21st Century World Order

Event: Tyrants, Terrorists, and Threats to the 21st Century World Order

October 3, 2018
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The Jewish Policy Center (JPC) and the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) co-sponsored the October conference “Tyrants, Terrorists, and Threats to the 21st Century World Order, focusing on American economic and national security interests and the axes and alliances that cross borders and continents.  Amid stories of negative cross-fertilization, panelists also addressed positive alliances of “intellectual entrepreneurs,” working for freedom and economic liberty around the world.

Keynote Speech and Interview

Intelligence, in the military and government fundamentally aims to provide “clarity and insight.” It’s about “how you paint the picture” of what’s going on, said Susan M. Gordon, principal deputy director of national intelligence and 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency in her keynote address.

But there’s a catch, and it’s big, she said. Analyzing collected intelligence can be like “trying to solve a jig-saw puzzle when you don’t know what the picture is, have only one-quarter of the pieces, and have to advise the president in five minutes. And knowing your judgement could change with one additional piece” of information. Gordon, who rose to senior positions in each of the CIA’s four directorates, said “North Korea is a perfect example” of the incomplete puzzle conundrum. Dictator Kim Jong Un “is not his father or grand-father,” tyrants who led “the Hermit Kingdom” before him. But who he is not doesn’t tell U.S. leaders who he is.

“I’ve never seen a world like this,” Gordon added, one fraught with tense competition but also “inter-connected, dynamic” in which “almost everyone has access to everything.” Bad actors include “Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, terrorists and organized crime,” each posing different kinds of threats, each learning from the others. The “bad actors,” Gordon said, “are natural allies in a way since they are all anti-American.”

Asked if the United States faces another 9/11, another Pearl Harbor, she said she worries most about the prevalence of so many players with so many interests, raising “the potential for miscalculation” that could “set something off.” Meanwhile, “the best response to closed societies” trying to undermine the West is “exposing people to free societies, free thought.”

Elizabeth Jane Hemenway, a retired FBI special agent with 30 years’ experience, was interviewed by Claudia Rosett, IWF’s foreign policy fellow. Offering her perspective as “a street agent,” not a policy maker. Hemenway cited Friedrich Hegel’s observation that “history teaches we do not learn from history” and offered four examples.

  • Lee Harvey Oswald. Hemenway’s father, a State Department officer in Moscow, reviewed the defector’s application for re-entry into the United States. Her father considered Oswald a traitor, Hemenway said, and “buried” his application. His successor in the post excavated and approved the papers of the man who would assassinate President John F. Kennedy. 
  • Hemenway worked on the case of the second example, FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Soviet Union and its successor, Russia. Echoing a Justice Department assessment, Hemenway termed Hanssen’s 22 years of subversion “the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history,” which led to the exposure and execution of several American assets in Russia.

“There could be a Hanssen at work today,” Hemenway said, because “the Russians like big targets; we like small ones,” and their efforts to recruit spies “goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” The FBI counter-intelligence veteran told conference attendees “the Cold War was never over….” although “it may have paused a bit” when the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact communist satellites splintered.

  • Her third example was John O’Neill, who also worked in the FBI’s New York office. The legendary O’Neill was a hard-working, hard-living special agent who, among other things, violated bureau rules by late-night drinking with targets of his surveillance – but who was one of the first who “started talking about an obscure jihadist in Saudi Arabia named Osama bin Laden. And no one paid attention.”  

O’Neill created the al-Qaeda desk in the FBI’s New York office. “By 2000, 2001 he felt more and more that bin Laden wanted to attack the United States,” according to Hemenway. When someone said told O’Neill that if so, bin Laden probably wouldn’t strike the World Trade Center since Muslim terrorists had already bombed it in 1993, O’Neill countered that they would more likely try to finish the job.

On Sept. 10, 2001 O’Neill, then head of security at the World Trade Center, “told a friend ‘something big’ was going to happen.” O’Neill was last seen running back into the doomed structure.

  • Hemenway’s fourth case study was that of Russian foreign intelligence officer Sergei Tretyakov. In the late 1990s, Tretyakov was second in command of the KGB’s successor organization’s New York office. “He was in charge of all 60 [Kremlin] agents overseeing 150 sources in New York City.”

In the 1990s he became a double-agent, working for the FBI, and in 2000 Tretyakov defected with “his wife, his daughter and his cat.” He said he did it out of “disgust” and “contempt” for the people running Russia and to give his child a future “in a country that has a future,” Hemenway noted.

Pointing to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom earlier this year by two men British authorities described as operatives of Russian military intelligence, Hemenway noted that the Russia of President Vladimir Putin “is our enemy.”

Panels: Axes and Alliances

Two panels, addressing cross-border alliances, were moderated by the JPC’s senior director, Shoshana Bryen.

In the first, Michaela Dodge, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, noted that the Trump administration’s new strategic doctrine focuses primarily on great power competition instead of terrorism. That makes testing and modernization of America’s nuclear weapons arsenal more urgent, as approximately half of the weapons are more than 40 years old. Among her greatest concerns, she said, is that many of the people who have experience in nuclear testing and modernization are soon to retire and there has been little effort to recruit younger engineers and scientists.

Lee Smith, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, took up the point that nation states, not sectarian or minority groups, should be the focus of American foreign policy, calling for a retrenchment in foreign policy thinking based on lessons from American failures since 2001.

He added that though the Islamic State largely has been defeated in Iraq and Syria, he didn’t believe the Syrian conflict is winding down. We have to work with nation-states, he stressed, but we have to know which are our friends and which are not. He pointed to U.S. Defense Department support for the Lebanese military to strengthen the Lebanese state. “Hezbollah is the state,” he said.

Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, cautioned that the United States is “very good at fighting the last war,” but not “looking ahead strategically. What comes after ISIS?”  He quoted former CIA Director James Woolsey’s observation that we are in “the long war of the 21st century,” and that thousands of foreign extremists attracted to ISIS’ now-obliterated “caliphate have gone elsewhere” and are still radical. He pointed to Uzbekistan, Malaysia and Morocco as countries that share points of interest with the U.S. on radical Islam.

The second panel was deemed the “good news panel” for its emphasis on positive networks.

Casey Pifer of the Atlas Network explained private property rights as the necessary underpinning of economic liberty. Freedom and opportunity, she said, begin when people have access to the capital that cannot now be tapped because they have no legal title to homes or farm property. The inability to borrow or sell inhibits the growth of markets. She described the Network’s successes in Africa and elsewhere.

Andrea Bottner, founder of Bottner Strategies, LLC and a former State Department official, described U.S. government policy as it related to the Afghan Women’s Network and the international work of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Focusing on women as the drivers of many societies in the Third World, Bottner helped to shape American foreign policy to give women tools for economic and political advancement.

Dr. Suzanne Scholte, President of the Defense Forum Foundation, described her experiences with North Korean (primarily female) defectors and how North Korean women had formed a successful network agricultural network in the communist country, “born of their sheer determination to feed their families.”

The three panelists agreed that many of the people they worked with abroad were naturally attracted to markets, freedom and limited government regardless of how much they knew about the workings of the capitalist West.